Federal officials looking into a recent spate of bomb scares at historically Black colleges and universities across the country say the investigation is of the “highest priority” as they race to identify possible suspects or motives behind the numerous threats.
The FBI on Wednesday released a statement saying the threats are “being investigated as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes” with assistance from more than 20 field offices across the country. The FBI's statement says the agency is also investigating threats made against houses of worship.
“Although at this time no explosive devices have been found at any of the locations, the FBI takes all threats with the utmost seriousness, and we are committed to thoroughly and aggressively investigating these threats,” the agency continued, adding they are unable to provide further information due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also investigating the string of threats.
Around 20 HBCU campuses received bomb threats over the course of the past several days. On Tuesday, officials confirmed to Spectrum News threats were made at the following 14 schools:
- Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi
- Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Arkansas
- Edward Waters University in Jacksonville, Florida
- Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Georgia
- Howard University in Washington, D.C.
- Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi
- Kentucky State University in Frankfort
- Mississippi Valley State University
- Morgan State University in Baltimore
- Philander Smith College in Little Rock
- Spelman College in Atlanta
- Tougaloo College in Jackson
- University of the District of Columbia
- Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday told reporters that President Joe Biden was aware of the threats made on both days, adding that Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, assistant to the president for homeland security, is providing the president and senior staff with "regular updates" on the situation.
"We take these threats incredibly seriously," Psaki said. "It is scary, it is horrifying, it is terrible that these students, these faculty, these institutions are feeling under threat."
Psaki went on to say that officials are still evaluating "what we think the origin, the reasoning, the motivation" behind the threats might be, but said there is no clear assessment yet available.
Tuesday, which coincided with the first day of Black History Month, marked at least the third time this year that historically Black institutions of higher learning were targeted by bomb threats. Both Howard University in Washington, D.C. and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans received threats on Jan. 4; Spelman College in Atlanta also received a threat around two weeks ago.
FBI officials have reportedly identified a handful of suspects associated with the threats, according to separate reports from ABC and NBC News. The FBI referred Spectrum News to a statement on their website when reached for comment.
Spectrum News' Ryan Chatelain contributed to this report.